Gopher Broke – Medal of Honor Story

A tribute to the Crew of “Blood Sweat & Tears”
And the Marines of 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Division

Marines were dying. They had hit an explosive device, and the Marines of Alpha Company, 3rd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Division closed ranks. They had been sweeping an area on the left flank of their insertion point. They had already engaged the enemy twice, had tagged a booby trap just moments earlier, and some of them were in a running firefight as they pursued enemy forces. The sound of that explosion told the Marines someone had just found another booby trap, the hard way.

The Marines closest to that blast site moved to help the wounded. Some of them had to go through concertina wire to get to them, and others simply ran into the large clearing where the wounded lay. The remaining Marines down the line circled in to set up a defensive perimeter. There, they held positions to provide cover for the Med-Evac they knew would probably already be en route. They didn’t know they had just taken up positions in a minefield and were now standing at Death’s door. In a matter of minutes this reality would come crashing down on them. They would soon be giving their lives trying to save each other, and one Marine; Private First Class Mike Clausen would be trying to save them all.

As Lieutenant Colonel Ledbetter barreled his CH 46 aircraft into the mine field, the three Marines at his one O’clock disappeared in an eruption of earth filled with searing metal and with the blood sweat & tears of young Marines. The crew of the Colonel’s aircraft was going to “Gopher Broke”, collect that precious Blood Sweat & Tears, save the rest of those Marines, and get the hell out of there! But the dying wasn’t over.

The stage was set. Lieutenant Colonel Ledbetter’s aircraft, Blood Sweat and Tears, had just landed at Death’s door, joining the Marines of Alpha Company, 3rd Platoon. What happened next may be viewed by some as a waste of humanity. It would be recognized by others as representative of a Marine’s commitment to his Fellow Marines and would answer two questions: How many Marines does it take to save a Marine? As many as it takes. How many times do they try? As many as it takes.

These questions have been answered throughout Marine Corps history.
That January 31, 1970, merits a place in those Hallowed Halls can only mean one thing:

Self Sacrifice, Uncommon Valor, and the Congressional Medal of Honor Earned by Private First Class, Mike Clausen.

—-
It was the morning of January 31, 1970. I was a radio operator (known then as Delivery Boy 1-4 / Lance Corporal West) serving on the Tactical Air Control Party (TACP), Head Quarters Company, First Marine Division on Hill 55 just south of Da Nang. Another of the “Kingfisher” Patrols was already underway as Lieutenant Cruikshank and I left the command bunker and ran down the hill to the lower landing zone. 1st Lieutenant Cruikshank, an A-4 Skyhawk Pilot, was serving as an Air Liaison officer. Major James W. Rider, was the Regimental Air Liaison Officer in charge of the TACP and a Gun Ship Commander with HML-367. Two Ch-46 Sea Knight Helicopters sat with rotors turning at a high rpm ready to lift off, and the Marines of 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company were already in line at the ramp of the Sea Knight we reached first. As we joined the end of their ranks, we all advanced up the ramp and into the orifice of the CH-46. I was amazed at how quickly we had placed ourselves elbow to elbow in the long canvas seats given such a confined space. The ramp closed. The whine of the engines increased and there was an audible change in the pitch of the rotors and the large Sea Knight lifted off, leaving Hill 55 with the Marines of 3rd Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Division. Most of them would never see Hill 55 again.

Alpha Company’s 2nd Platoon had been inserted earlier and encountered a sizable enemy force; 3rd Platoon was now being inserted as a blocking force to cut off any possibility of retreat by the enemy. The order to “Lock and Load” was given, and I could feel the aircraft flare as the ramp came down. Lt Cruikshank and I exited the aircraft and turned to our right taking up a position along a small rice paddy dike followed by the Marines of 3rd Platoon. I could not believe it. Right there in front of us was Charlie, wearing black pj’s, running diagonally across the rice paddy in a southwesterly direction. I raised my weapon to my shoulder and squeezed off about four rounds when I felt Lieutenant Cruikshank’s hand on my shoulder. He gave me a stern, “That’s not what we’re here for,” and then was back on the radio. I couldn’t believe my ears. Hell, I was thinking how’d I miss that guy as I realized he was still getting it across that paddy. There must have been 14 Marines to my right along that dike, all firing at him. Still he just kept trucking, heading for the far right corner of the paddy. The Cobra Gun Ship glided in at treetop level right on the heels of Charlie. That’s why we were there, TACP. The Scarface pilot of the Cobra positioned the nose of his aircraft directly above Charlie and fired his automatic grenade launcher. Charlie disappeared in a circle of explosions only to emerge looking as if he was running a 50-meter dash. He had picked up the tempo and now disappeared into the jungle at the far right corner of the paddy. He was one dedicated individual, who was now full of holes and must have dropped dead in the jungle.

The Marines to my right formed a line and moved down the paddy dike, we followed suit. As we reached the corner at the end of the paddy, a Marine warned, “Booby Trap.” That’s why Charlie was so set on his direction across the paddy, not zigging or zagging to escape our fire. He was leading us to a place of death even as we were killing him. We didn’t know it yet, but his buddies were doing the same thing. “Booby Trap.” My senses tightened as the words echoed in my head. I strained to see where the Marine was talking about, but we were already on the move again. Turning East we moved across the end of the paddy and into a clearing. In front of us was a drainage ditch with a narrow tree line parallel to it. The lead elements were already through the ditch and trees, and there was sporadic firing in the distance beyond.

As I waded into the chest deep murky water of the drainage ditch, I couldn’t stop from thinking, “Booby trap; please don’t let me get blown up in this crap and drown.” Up out of the ditch and through the tree line into a brushy area. Where the hell did everyone go? It seemed to be just the four of us there at the end of the column. There was high scattered brush everywhere and a tree line in the distance to the south. The Marine with the M-79 must have seen something move in that tree line and squeezed one off. There was the distinctive thoop followed by an explosion in the distance. I looked at him, and as he turned and looked at me, we heard that same distinctive thoop, and then the bush between us exploded. We both cringed and dropped to the ground. I’m sure the expression on my face said, “Don’t do that again.” Then we heard that first deafening explosion. It came from our 8:00 O’clock, behind us in a northwesterly direction approximately 50 yards away behind a group of small trees and brush. The words “Booby Trap” still echoed in my head.

There was a rifleman, Lieutenant Cruikshank, myself and the Marine with the M-79 grenade launcher taking up the rear. We turned and ran to an opening in the brush just to the left of the small clump of trees. It was there we hit the barbed wire and, as fast as you can go through wire, we went right through it. The small group of trees was now on our right; in front of us was a large open area with a tree line in the distance. On our left was more high brush jutting out into the clearing. We skirted the small tree line to our right, moving to the group of Marines now in front of us.

There were a lot of wounded Marines lying there. Others were on top of them as if in some type of football huddle. We stopped just short of them. 1st Lieutenant Cruikshank was now between me and the wounded Marines. The two other Marines with us had stopped at about seven yard intervals and were covering the rear. I leaned past Lieutenant Cruikshank and looked into the group of Marines. This face glanced up at that same time, and I had eye contact with a young Corpsman. He was all I could see in that maze of green. The look on his face told me I was lucky. Lucky I didn’t see what he now turned back to.

There are no words to describe the sound of that second explosion as it killed one Marine and wounded two others. The Marines in front of us cringed as dirt and shrapnel from that second explosion brought home the realization we were in a mine field. It had come from behind the first group of wounded Marines, further down the tree line and a bit further into the clearing. Lieutenant Cruikshank and I had cringed also, and I was now smacking at my right knee trying to stop the burning sensation from the tiny piece of metal that had made it past the wall of Marines in front of us and was now embedded in my right knee. It was nothing, but it had gotten my attention as if someone had stuck a lit cigarette to my flesh. Lieutenant Cruikshank was busy on my radio as some of the Marines in front of us shifted position to help the second group of Marines just hit.

I turned to my left and looked into the large clearing. To the left of us, about 60 yards away were three Marines. They seemed to be too far from us to be part of the 3rd Platoon. They may have been, but I suspect they were elements of the 2nd Platoon which had been moving to link up with us for an assault on the distant tree line. Whoever they were, they were in a very bad place, and they knew it. The tree line in the distance was full of the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army elements that the 2nd Platoon and the lead elements of 3rd Platoon had chased there just moments earlier. They continued to lay down sporadic fire at us and at the 2nd Platoon. The Cobra gun ships overhead were making them think twice before giving up their positions. These three Marines were in a position to have witnessed that second explosion and must have known what we knew–to move was to die. To remain where they were was to ask for a sniper to end their dilemma. The center Marine appeared to kneel and reached down as if to probe ground. Then they were gone. They had disappeared in an eruption of earth filled with searing metal and with the blood sweat & tears of young Marines. Still I thought I’d be OK. Lieutenant Cruikshank was on the radio and looking around as if giving a situational report. The two Marines behind us remained in position, and the look on their faces told me they too understood our situation.

Our world filled with the sound of the large CH-46 as it came in from behind us, seemingly skimming the tree tops. They must have seen those three Marines disappear. It had just happened. Lance Corporal Bish had seen it. He was a radio operator assigned to Alpha Company’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Purdy who circled above in the Command Huey. Lance Corporal Bish had been moving with lead elements of the 2nd Platoon to link with the 3rd Platoon for an assault on the distant tree line. He had seen that first devastating explosion as it cut down five Marines. He had called for a “Corpsman Up” and had been moving toward our position. He now stopped and was on the radio with Lieutenant Colonel Ledbetter, Command Officer, and the pilot of the aircraft, HMM-263, “Blood Sweat & Tears.” We had become his third Med-Evac mission since “Kingfisher” began earlier that morning. The Colonel barreled his aircraft down into the mine field as Lance Corporal Bish advised, “Popping Smoke.” The Corpsman had just run past Lance Corporal Bish heading for the first group of wounded Marines as Lance Corporal Bish threw his smoke grenade. They both hit mines. I never saw Lance Corporal Bish or the explosion the smoke grenade set off. I never saw the explosion that had just killed the Corpsman as he ran to help wounded Marines. They were just out of line of sight behind the tall brush to our left. I never heard them either. These two mines detonated almost simultaneously with the one that was about to send me airborne. Maybe it had already happened and the sound had been drowned out by the rotors and engines of “Blood Sweat & Tears.” They would have been the fourth and fifth explosions since the sound of that first one that had summoned us to the mine field moments earlier.

The sound of that aircraft dropping down in front of us brought my attention back to Lieutenant Cruikshank and the remaining two Marines with us. Lieutenant Cruikshank told the these two Marines to go to the wire as the large Sea Knight, now at eye level, moved directly across from us to the site where the three Marines had disappeared. They made it to the wire and Lieutenant Cruikshank motioned for us to join them. As I turned to go, I noticed a crewmember of “Blood Sweat & Tears” run down the ramp and into the minefield. The aircraft had moved across the mine field and now appeared to be straining to maintain a hover in a nose high attitude. In fact, it wasn’t hovering at all. PFC Mike Clausen had directed Lt. Colonel Ledbetter to a precautious landing in the minefield. To reduce the chance of hitting mines, they had worked together to place the main wheel mounts on craters left by detonated mines. They would repeat this process three times. Lance Corporal Bish saw him too. It was Private First Class, Mike Clausen, disobeying the direct orders of Lt. Colonel Ledbetter not to leave the aircraft on his first of what would total six trips into the mine field. Lance Corporal Bish had yelled, “You dumb SOB, you’re in a mine field.” Private First Class, Clausen knew that, but he was busy trying to retrieve the body of one of those Marines that he had seen disappear in that third explosion.

We didn’t get very far. We took one step, and Lieutenant Cruikshank hit the mine that had been right there between us that whole time. Not much room considering I had the radio and Lieutenant Cruikshank had the handset. Defying the laws of gravity, I was flying in slow motion through the air. It seemed an eternity before I felt the earth bring my flight to an end. Stunned and confused I realized my rifle was gone and noticed the blood at my right elbow. I felt as if I had been hit by a Mack truck, and there was a strange numbness accompanied by an intense burning sensation. I pulled my helmet off and tried to puke in it. I couldn’t and realized I wasn’t trying to puke after all, I was trying to breathe. I was in fact breathing, but that first breath after the mine was forced and hard, not the usual unconscious effort associated with breathing. I threw my helmet down, a really stupid thing to do, considering we were in a mine field. Fortunately, I got away with it, unlike Lance Corporal Bish’s smoke grenade.

I looked behind me for Lieutenant Cruikshank and saw him lying on his back with a large smoking hole between us. Through the ringing in my ears, I heard this loud hissing noise. The large column of yellow smoke coming from the radio strapped to my back told me it was from the smoke grenades I had attached there earlier. I had just popped another smoke, the hard way. I put my hands on the ground and attempted to get up to go to Lieutenant Cruikshank’s aide when a new reality confronted me. My right pants leg dangled in the air, and my right leg was gone. I looked at my left leg to find it severely mangled with my left foot lying at some unnatural angle barely attached. Suddenly, one of the two Marines that had made it to the wire was in front of me knocking me back to the ground. He began to apply tourniquets to my legs. The other Marine was now on top of me also. He was busy slipping the radio off my back and then knelt there with his hands on my shoulders, as if to hold me down. I looked down at the Marine working on my legs and asked, “How are my legs?” to which he replied “don’t worry about them…they’re gone.” He was definitely one “Born Again Hard” Marine. I looked back up at the Marine on top of me and said, “Check the Lieutenant.” He seemed to release me and was gone before I finished getting the words out of my mouth.

Lance Corporal Bish hadn’t seen or heard the explosion that had just claimed both of my legs and one of Lieutenant Cruikshank’s. His attention had been torn between his radio, the rescue efforts in front of him at the site of that third detonation, and the lifeless body of the Corpsman. The Corpsman was obviously gone. He had covered a lot of minefield before fate caught up with him and his lifeless body now rested close to the site of that first mine. Lance Corporal Bish and the Marine with him remained where they were as Colonel Ledbetter air taxied the large aircraft backwards across the mine field to the site of the first, second and sixth detonations. It was here the majority of the wounded Marines lay.

Here Private First Class Mike Clausen would again direct Lt. Colonel Ledbetter to landings at detonation sites and would exit the aircraft another five times, helping the wounded and retrieving the dead. I don’t know how many Marines were left at this position that had not been injured. There were the two who had been with Lieutenant Cruikshank and me when we entered the mine field. There must have been several at the site of the first explosion. Lieutenant Cruikshank and I watched as they formed that huddle over wounded. I never saw the ones that hit that second mine beyond the first group. I was flat on my back, facing the opening in the brush that we had come through. A Marine placed a stretcher on the ground next to me. It may have been Private First Class Mike Clausen; I just don’t know. This Marine and I believe the one that had tied off my legs, moved me to the stretcher. I could feel the torn muscle and broken bones for the first time. There is no gentle way to quickly move a mangled limb. The pain had become excruciating as the Marines carrying my stretcher ran to the ramp of “Blood Sweat and Tears” and deposited me on the deck.

As bad as things had been, nothing could compare with what happened next. When they dropped into the minefield, Lieutenant Colonel Ledbetter had directed his flight crew to take off their flack jackets and place them on the deck. It was a wise decision. Again, there are no words to describe that seventh and last detonation. Private First Class Mike Clausen was returning from the left front of the aircraft with a wounded man. Lieutenant Cruikshank, now on a stretcher carried by two Marines is just steps from the ramp of the aircraft. I had cringed during that second detonation, and experienced a personal encounter with the sixth. It still wasn’t over. There was a horrific noise, a combination of high explosive, rotor wash and the whine of the engines. Metal and debris smacked into the rear rotor and left rear of the aircraft. I rolled to my right side towards the center aisle and moved my left arm and hand to cover my head. I remember thinking, “God, please don’t blow me up again.” There was the sound of metal hitting metal, and I held tightly to the stretcher.

Lance Corporal Bish watched in disbelief as the large aircraft wavered, first pitching and then yawing, just inches from disaster. He almost took off running despite the mines. It looked for a moment like it was going to roll over in the minefield and come after him. The rotor stabilized and Lieutenant Colonel Ledbetter regained control of his now damaged aircraft chock full of dead and dying Marines. PFC. Mike Clausen, Colonel Ledbetter’s crew chief, was still outside the aircraft. Lieutenant Cruikshank and the Marines carrying him had been hit by shrapnel. A Corpsman with them had been killed. Private First Class Mike Clausen had been knocked down by that blast. He got up and continued helping the wounded Marine with him to the aircraft. He then returned to the mine field for a fifth and then sixth and last time to help Lieutenant Cruikshank, the wounded Marines with him and to retrieve the body of the Corpsman. “Blood Sweat and Tears”, finally left the mine field.

Lance Corporal Bish watched as the aircraft lifted off and turned away from him heading NE toward Da Nang. He would be going SW back to the 2nd Platoon and the pursuit of the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army elements still in the distant tree line, still lying down sporadic fire. All he had to do was turn in a direction as instructed by Lieutenant Purdy and walk out of the mine field. I am glad he hadn’t seen our attempt at that. He had already seen enough to tell him what this meant. Lance Corporal Bish and the Marine with him turned and left the mine field. He cringed with every step. It was agonizing. There was no wire in his end of the mine field–No discernable barrier or border to offer sanctuary, to offer acknowledgment of their successful passage through the killing field. His thoughts, when he had them, kept returning to a snapshot of the dead Corpsman. In his own words, “It had turned into, just another bad day in Viet Nam.” Lance Corporal Bish would know, as Lieutenant Purdy’s radio operator, he had always been in the thick of things, and this was his ninth or tenth “Kingfisher Patrol”. The 2nd Platoon had been “kicking ass” all morning. They now waited, waited for Lance Corporal Bish to join them. Lance Corporal Bish continued his walk out of the mine field, the Marine with him, possibly a Sergeant, a lifer from the looks of him, took point. They made it clear of the mine field and continued with the mission. Guess they were some more of those “Born again Hard,” Marines.

I was so cold I was starting to shiver. There was a crewman moving back and forth passed me as I lay there on the deck in my stretcher. As he passed by I looked up and said, “I’m cold.” He stopped and turned behind him to the flack jackets on the deck at the feet of the door gunners. Retrieving these, he turned back and covered me with them, pushing them in close to me as if trying to tuck me in for the night. Then he was gone. I think it was Private First Class Mike Clausen. I looked up and my eyes were locked with those of the starboard door Gunner. Colonel Ledbetter would later smile when I mentioned this and say, “That was Sergeant Major M. S. Landy.” His eyes left my gaze and would scan the carnage that filled the aircraft. Then he would turn and stare down the barrel of his weapon. His expression said die you SOBs, die. He did this the remainder of the flight to the hospital in Da Nang.

We were down, and people filled the cramped interior of the aircraft. Two of them grabbed my stretcher, and I was now in the bright sunlight of the landing zone. They were running and each step they took jarred my broken bones. The pain was immediate and unbearable. I tried to rise to my elbows and was yelling at them to stop. All I could do was hold on. We were now in a room, a room filled with saw horses. They placed my stretcher across two of those saw horses, and about five people pounced on me. Some were cutting my clothes off; others were working on my legs and taking my pulse. They all seemed to be in a hurry. One real irritating Marine knelt at my head with a clipboard and kept asking me for my name, rank, and serial number; how many times did I need to tell him? Whatever they were doing to my legs hurt. I moaned in agony. It felt as if they had just closed bear traps on them. A voice came from behind the Marine with the clipboard. It said “Hang in there West.” The Marine beside me moved, and I could see Lieutenant Cruikshank. He was on the saw horses on my left and like me, surrounded by people working on him. We made eye contact and he closed his eyes, passing out. Why the hell was I still awake? All I wanted was to go to sleep and escape the unrelenting pain. I didn’t care or think about waking up. I just wanted it to be over. It occurred to me that if I was still this aware of things, I should just get up and leave this place. I went to rise up on my elbows, made it about half way and fell back to the stretcher, drained from the effort.

The people over me shifted position and he pushed his way between them. He rubbed something on my chest and pushed the long needle between my ribs and into my heart. It may as well have been his fist. The sensation was that of a crushing pressure as if he was trying to push my heart out of my back. He never spoke a word, and then he was gone. It seemed like a lull in a storm. There were fewer people over me, and a back door adjacent to me opened up. Someone stuck his head in the room and said the “O. R. is ready.” Hell, everyone knows they put you to sleep in the operating room. Again I tried to lift my head, turned to the person in the door and shouted, “West is ready!” The people at my side grabbed my stretcher and took me through that door to a room for an X-ray. As soon as the button had been pushed, they moved me down the hall into the O. R. I looked up through the blinding bright light and made eye contact for the last time that day. It was the face of a kindly, older man. His short, graying hair bordered his head cap like a halo. He reached down placing his right hand on my forehead and said, “It’s OK son, you’re going to sleep now.”

“It’s OK Son.” I had heard these same words so many times as I sat in the safety of the command bunker handing off and monitoring the traffic between ground forces and air crews. “It’s OK Son,’ calm down and listen to me, I can’t see your heat tab. You’re going to have to do something else, or I can’t find you.”

“It’s OK Son.’ It will be all right. I know you have many wounded. I don’t know where your two o’clock is. Where are you in relation to me?”

Even Cpl. Bish lost it once as he was targeted by automatic weapons fire from a well entrenched position in a tree line. Evidently the degree of your speech impediment is directly related to the proximity of the fire you are receiving. The Scarface pilot came back with a “Calm down. It’s OK Son,” in response to the unintelligible babble that came across his radio. “Where you from, Son?” the pilot asked. “Oh yeah, I know where that is. OK Son” what are we doing here?” Cpl. Bish directed the pilot to the position in the tree line where Charlie was deep under a large fallen tree. Several bursts of the mini gun and a few rockets later, Scarface had put an end to that crap.

Perhaps in no other war had so many of America’s finest and youngest Marines fought the good fight with America’s finest and most seasoned Marine Corps Aviator’s. It was and remains an Honor to have served with the very best.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Semper Fi Brothers!

Alpha/1/1 KIA
Harrell, RD
Rozell, EA

Alpha/1/1 WIA
Chill, JE St. Louis, MO
Forbes, AL Dade County, FL
*Gillin, WA MD
Lasater, LE Cook County, IL
McKeever, FG San Francisco County, CA
Nick, C Broward County, FL
Sanderson, EW Mobile County, AL
Singleton, JK Montgomery County, AK
Trujillo, A Bexar County, TX
Wynn, L Washington County, MN
Silvoso, JA Boone County, MO

Forward Air Control Party WIA
*West, EA
*Lt. Cruikshank

Air Crew
*Pilot Lt. Col. Walter Ledbetter
CoPilot 1st Lt. Paul D. Parker
*Crew Chief PFC. Raymond M. Clausen
*Door Gunner Sgt. Maj. Morton S. Landy
*Side Gunner Cpl. Steve M. Marinkonic

2 Navy Corpsman KIA
We have no info on them

* Marks men we have found.

If you know any of the men not yet found, contact webmaster@popasmoke.com

Semper Fi,

Wally ‘Bytes’ Beddoe, USMC 81-85
Webmaster
USMC/Combat Helicopter Association
http://www.popasmoke.com

Semper Share:

BONNIE-SUE

The best book I’ve ever read! I highly recommend reading the book “Bonnie-Sue” by my good friend Marion Sturkey. When I started it, I could not put it down. If you are a Marine, especially a rotorhead, you will not be disappointed in Sturk’s stories about a Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron in Vietnam.

Overview

Marine Corps helicopter crews and infantrymen found little glory waiting for them in faraway Vietnam. Instead, they found themselves mired in a life-and-death battle with tenacious Sino-Soviet pawns.

Marion Sturkey, a Marine Corps helicopter pilot in Vietnam, combines fascinating detail with grim realism. After-Action-Reports, Unit Diaries, and hundreds of records from the Marine Corps Archives create the outline for his riveting chronology. Onto this framework the author weaves personal accounts from the helicopter crews and infantrymen. Day by day, he breathes life into this eloquent saga of Marines at war.

The reader steps through a looking glass into the crucible of combat. Through real men in real places — no pseudonyms — one sees the madness, the passion, the love, the horror, and the loyalty shared by pilots, aircrewmen, and infantrymen.

In the end, their survival became their victory

Semper Share:

Paul Melvin Beddoe, KIA Vietnam

PFC Paul Melvin Beddoe was a member of Company B, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. PFC Beddoe died Jan. 21, 1968 in a Da Nang hospital, one day after he received fragment wounds from an explosive device while on patrol in the vicinity of Khe Sanh (Hill 881S). He was my Dad’s 1st cousin. As long as he is remembered, he will never be forgotten!  ~Cpl. Beddoe

Bob (PJ) Pagano was with Paul when he was hit. The following is PJ’s first-hand account as written to me.


Hi Wally,

I didn’t know Paul that long. He was a “new guy” compared to the hand full of us that were left from when the company moved up to Khe Sanh. At the time Paul came to the company I had pulled twenty something patrols and was pretty crazy compared to those who were just coming on board. Crazy in the way you had to be to survive so many missions in the densely jungled and incredibly rough terrain at Khe Sanh which held at least 20,000 fresh NVA solders. All that combined to give Bravo Company the highest casualty rate of any Recon Company in the war for that period – by far. I became, let’s say, “focused” on being in the bush and my social skills kind of dropped away as did all the more refined behavioral features of my personality. I didn’t really get to know the new guys well because they were, well, new and I didn’t like getting to know them and then see them get killed or wounded. If I stayed kind of aloof I wouldn’t get emotionally invested and loosing them would be easier, or so I thought anyway (it didn’t really work but one grabs at anything to try to blunt the blow). The new guys, in turn, were a little stand offish with us older guys (keep in mind that chronological age is irrelevant, it was time in the bush that determined if you were “old” or “new”). They saw us as kind of wild and strange – and we were.

Cpl. Charles W. Bryan, Unknown (not Barkwood), LCpl. Ronald Parr, LCpl. William T. Hollis and PFC Paul M. Beddoe

I pulled a couple of patrols with Paul before Barkwood. He had a good sense of humor and was of upright character. New guys were sent out with experienced teams to get “snapped in” as they say. They then either stayed with that team or were assigned to another team as needed. Barkwood was a brand new team having just been formed and consisted mostly of new guys that, like Paul, had already been “snapped in”. The exceptions were Lionel Guerra and Ron Parr both of whom had a fair amount of experience. However, Barkwood didn’t have an experienced radio operator so when I approached the team leader, Corporal “Bill” Bryan, and asked if I could join the team he walked me right over to the XO and got it approved. As you know from having read the stuff on the website about the Warriors of Hill 881S; we (Team Barkwood) choppered up to Hill 881S on January 19th 1968. India Company of 3/26 occupied the hill under the command of Captain William Dabney and he was to take most of India Company the following day and patrol up to Hill 881N where they were to look for the lost radio from Recon Team Dockleaf that had been hit there on the 17th and lost two men. (I had been in the bush on the 17th and remember monitoring the fire fight on my radio and telling our team leader, Julian Kalama, that Cpl. Healy and Lt.Yeary had been killed. I don’t remember the call sign of Kalama’s team at that point but I do remember that when I came in from that patrol I instantly asked to go out with Barkwood because I wanted to get back in the bush.) We were attached to India’s 3rd Platoon who made up the right column and we were to drop off covertly when we neared Hill 881N. (This was a method that was used from time to time to insert Recon teams. I didn’t care for it because you immediately had to worry about the Grunts opening up on you. It only took one of them not to get the word, catch a glimpse of you, mistake you for the NVA and open up whereupon the rest would as well.) Our orders were that if India came under fire before we could drop off we were to return to Hill 881S (because our mission at that point would have been blown). When about half way to Hill 881N the Grunts came under fire. It started with seven shots from a heavy machine gun; first three then four a second later. India took a lot of casualties and our team leader, Cpl. “Bill” Bryan volunteered that the team join the Grunts rather than withdraw as instructed by our operation order. Lt. Brindly, India’s 3rd Platoon Commander, accepted the offer and we added our seven rifles to theirs.

Paul was calm and collected as we took some fire and established a perimeter for evacuation of the Grunt wounded and dead. He required no special attention and did what he was supposed to without hesitation or complaint. That may not sound like much but it is; it really is. A lot of guys, especially new guys, jam up at these times. Helping with dead and wounded Marines, taking fire, smoke, concussion, noise like you’ve never heard before, choppers coming in firing, not knowing what will happen next – all that is really scary stuff. Paul didn’t bat an eye, kept a steady hand and performed like a real pro.

Lt. Brindly asked us to get on line for an assault up the small hill in front of us (the intermediate objective). This was the classic Marine “walking assault”. To put a point on it: We were about to walk, uphill, into the flaming muzzels of an entrenched, numerically superior and determined enemy. By comparison, the scariest thing you’ve ever imagined is kids stuff. Paul got on line, again, without hesitation or complaint.

Lieutenant Brindly gave the command: “Fix bayonets!” We all looked at him at once. Recon guys never hear this command in their line of work. In fact, I doubt that there was a single bayonet among us. But it sure drove the fact home about what we were about to do.

Paul never wavered. The assault stepped off and we moved downhill for a few yards and then started up the intermediate objective. We quickly lost contact with the Grunts on our left (what remained of 3rd Platoon) and were now the extreme right of the Marine line. The elephant grass was high and we had trouble keeping sight of each other. The enemy held fire until we were among them at the top of the hill. Then things got pretty dicey.

The Grunts didn’t know we had made it that far and opened up on us at the same time the NVA did (the Grunts couldn’t see us because of the elephant grass and were shooting at where they knew the NVA were). We were vastly outnumbered and rifle fire was coming from every direction along with enemy grenades and Marine mortar rounds. There was so much fire and so many NVA that each of us was locked in our own little war. It was pretty desperate fighting and we were all hit. I took a bullet right away and was preoccupied with that and getting the Marine fire off of us so I don’t know what happened with Paul – I couldn’t see him. He was taken from the hill along with Lionel Guerra and the others about an hour or so before I was. I know Lionel saw him at the bottom of the hill where they had taken the wounded (Lionel was wounded very badly also).

Eventually, I was taken from the hill (something I had not expected to live to see) through a fantastically courageous rescue by the Marines of India Company (God bless the Grunts). After a short stop at Khe Sanh for blood, morphine and bandages I was flown to the huge Navy Hospital in Da Nang. They had me on a gurney and were wheeling me into a large, dark room that had scores of metal saw horses holding up stretchers on either side of the central isle that they were rolling my gurney down. The room seemed cavernous and had only enough light to barley make out the interior. As we proceeded down the isle there was an island of bright light coming up on my left. As we got loser I could see that there were lights and medical personnel clustered around a stretcher. I.V.’s were running to a Marine on the stretcher; it was Paul.

The Corpsman around him were comforting him in the uniquely tender way military men do. A genuine form of love that exists only in those circumstances. I called out for him not to worry, that everything was OK and that he was going home. He didn’t hear me. He was quite delirious and wasn’t conscious in the real sense of the word. Had he survived he would have had no memory of that time – I’m sure of that. The Corpsman pushing my gurney told me in a subdued voice that Paul had shrapnel wounds throughout his liver and pancreas and wouldn’t survive. “S**t!” I thought (the same thing I thought back on the hill when Cpl. Bryan told me he was going to die and then did so). S**t – what a totally inadequate comment. “Inadequate” applies though; that’s what I felt while I watched my friends die and could do nothing about it.

I don’t know how anyone can say that something positive can come out of a tragedy like Paul’s death. But, for me at least, I’ve tried to off set it to the tiny degree that I can. Over the last 37 years I’ve never passed an accident or failed to render assistance whenever the opportunity presented itself. I’m not a paramedic or anything but I’ve been able to help none the less. I know some basic first aid but I’ve found that holding and comforting an injured person while waiting for the ambulance to arrive helps them a great deal – they’ve told me so. One went through a lot of trouble to track me down two years after the fact, just to say thanks. I do it because of Paul, and he’s with me while I’m doing it.

This is something else you must know: When Lionel and I were at the Khe Sanh reunion last July we were swarmed by the Grunts that were there on January 20th 1968. They told us that Team Barkwood was eternally bonded to their company for having fought beside them on that hellish day. A few years ago Col. Dabney (the C.O. of India Company) told me that when we assaulted up that hill we assaulted into a company sized flanking movement that the NVA were making on the Marine right. He said our aggressiveness stalled the NVA attack (the NVA mistook us for a much larger unit than the seven men we were). Had that flanking movement been successful a lot of marines would have died – a lot. That night hill 861 was hit and almost fell (an incredible battle). It held because of the supporting fire that 881S was able to deliver. Had that NVA flanking movement not been stalled the Marines on 881S probably would not have been able to support hill 861 and without that support 861 certainly would have fallen (indeed, 881S might have fallen as well). There, at the reunion, I looked at all the Marines and Corpsmen from those two hills and I realized that there were hundreds of children and grand children alive today because of Paul’s courage. His death is neither in vain nor hollow. It begot a great deal of life.

I spoke with Lionel Guerra the other day and he told me that before that fateful day he and Paul had been talking and he discovered that Paul had family in Oregon and Washington. After Lionel got home to Washington he tracked down an aunt of Paul’s in the eastern part of the state. He told me that she said Paul’s death had been hard on the family and abruptly brushed him off. Obviously, Lionel didn’t pursue any further contact. So, I leave it to you as to whom you pass this along to. I don’t think it can hurt to know that a loved one’s death was not for naught but I leave it to your good judgment.

Semper Fi,
PJ
(Bob Pagano)

See more

PAUL BEDDOE
PAUL BEDDOE
PAUL BEDDOE

OBITUARY NOTICE:

Son Of Phoenix Couple Dies In Vietnam Hospital

Marine PFC. Paul Melvin Beddoe Jr., 19, son of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Melvin Beddoe, Route 4, Box 466A, Phoenix, died Jan. 21 in a Da Nang hospital, one day after he received fragment wounds from an explosive device while on patrol in the vicinity of Quang Tri. The Marine was a member of Company B, 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. He was rushed to the hospital in Da Nang immediately after the injury occurred but treatment failed to save his life.

The message was delivered by a Marine captain and a Navy officer from Eugene to the youth’s mother yesterday afternoon. His father, who is with the Miller Products Division of W. R. Grace Company, was attending a meeting in Sacramento where he was contacted. He returned to Medford last night.

Young Beddoe, an outstanding student throughout his high school career at Phoenix, had been interested in military history throughout his life, listing it as his favorite subject. After attending Walla Walla College in College Place, Wash., for one year he enlisted in the Marines June 1, 1967, and arrived in Da Nang Dec. 4.

He was born in Medford Nov. 13, 1948. While a student at Phoenix High School, he won the first place trophy in the junior men’s division in oratory at the Linfield College Speech Tournament. He was also prominent in track at the high school with the shotput his leading event. He was one of the speakers at his class graduation at Phoenix High School and was a member of the Young Americans for Freedom.

The Beddoe family has lived in the Rogue River Valley since 1945. Surviving in addition to the Marine’s parents are two sisters, Dr. Gladys Beddoe, who is in her first year of residency for surgery in the Riverside County Hospital, Riverside, Calif., Pamela Beddoe, a freshman at Phoenix High School, and one brother, Alex F. Beddoe, in his second year at Loma Linda University School of Dentistry, Loma Linda, Calif.

Siskiyou funeral Service Directors are in charge of arrangements.

Semper Share:

Raymond “Mike” Clausen Jr.

Mike Clausen was one helluva Marine! He earned the Medal of Honor for bravery in Vietnam (more below).

I first met Mike in Pensacola, Florida during a Marine reunion. Over the next four or five years I would communicate with Mike over e-mail and help him with his technical (computer) questions. I saw Mike three or four times after our first get together. Mike died in 2004 but will never be forgotten.

Members of the USMC Combat Helicopter Association remembers Mike:
http://www.popasmoke.com/notam2/showthread.php?t=4436


PRIVATE
RAYMOND M. CLAUSEN, JR. USMCR

Vietnam War 1965-1973
Medal of Honor Recipient

Raymond Michael Clausen, Jr., who was awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam in January 1970, was born October 14, 1947, in New Orleans, Louisiana. He graduated from high school in 1965, then attended college for six months.

He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve at New Orleans, March 30, 1966 and was discharged to enlist in the regular Marine Corps, May 27, 1966. Private Clausen received recruit training with the 3d Recruit Training Battalion, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California, and individual combat training with the 3d Battalion, 2d Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Pendleton, California. He then completed Aviation Mechanical Fundamentals School and the Basic Helicopter Course, Naval Air Technical Training Center, Memphis, Tennessee.

Upon completion of his training in April 1967, he was transferred to Marine Aircraft Group 26 (MAG-26), Marine Corps Air Facility, New River, Jacksonville, North Carolina, and served as jet engineer mechanic with HMM-365 and, later, as guard with MABS-26.

In December 1967, Private Clausen was ordered overseas where he was to serve as jet helicopter mechanic throughout his active duty service. Joining the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, he was with H&MS-36, MAG-36 until September 1968, then with HMM-364, MAG-16 until the following August.

Private Clausen returned to the United States, where he joined MAG-26 at New River for duty with HMM-261.

In November 1969, he began his second tour of duty with HMM-263, MAG-16, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. On August 19, 1970, upon his return to the United States, he was released from active duty.

A complete list of his medals and decorations include: the Medal of Honor, the Air Crewman Insignia and the Air Medal, both with three Gold Stars, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Purple Heart, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with one silver star and one bronze star, the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, the Vietnam Campaign Medal with device, and the Rifle Sharpshooter Badge.

Private Clausens parents are Mr. and Mrs. Raymond M. Clausen, Sr., of Hammond, Louisiana.

CITATION:
Rank and organization: Private First Class, U.S. Marine Corps, Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

Place and date: Republic of Vietnam , 31 January 1970 .
Entered service at: New Orleans , La.
Born: 14 October 1947 , New Orleans , La.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 263 during operation against enemy forces. Participating in a helicopter rescue mission to extract elements of a platoon which had inadvertently entered a minefield while attacking enemy positions, Pfc. Clausen skillfully guided the helicopter pilot to a landing in an area cleared by 1 of several mine explosions. With 11 marines wounded, 1 dead, and the remaining 8 marines holding their positions for fear of detonating other mines, Pfc. Clausen quickly leaped from the helicopter and, in laden area to assist in carrying casualties to the waiting helicopter and in placing them aboard. Despite the ever-present threat of further mine explosions, he continued his valiant efforts, leaving the comparatively safe area of the helicopter on 6 separate occasions to carry out his rescue efforts. On 1 occasion while he was carrying 1 of the wounded, another mine detonated, killing a corpsman and wounding 3 other men. Only when he was certain that all marines were safely aboard did he signal the pilot to lift the helicopter. By the courageous, determined and inspiring efforts in the face of the utmost danger, Pfc. Clausen upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the U.S. Naval Service.

Semper Share: